Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Blended Workplace

Standardized tests are not the only thing in education that is outdated and wasteful.  The other thing is having central and district offices.  Sure they were necessary last century, but this century??? 
Back in the 90s when I worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers we got rid of an entire building in Manhattan and moved to something called "hoteling." You worked from where you were and if you had to come in for a meeting or something you checked in that day (like you would in a hotel) and got an office or conference room. This saved the company MILLIONS. 
Seth Godin addressed this in his article, "Goodbye to the Office" and when you think about it, this would not only be a great way to save money for the business office, but also for school districts.  Imagine what the savings could go toward for our students!
Will school systems ever catch up?
I don't know.

I've spoken with folks who run online schools who are worried about buildings for their teachers.
Forget the building the classes are online! Give em a laptop and a wireless port (or money toward internet) and you don't need to waste that money on an office! I bet you could even tack on an extra half hour to the work day in saved commuting time.  
Seth poses these questions:
Why go to work in an office/plant/factory?
  1. That's where the machines are.
  2. That's where the items I need to work on are.
  3. The boss needs to keep tabs on my productivity.
  4. There are important meetings to go to.
  5. It's a source of energy.
  6. The people I collaborate with all day are there.
  7. I need someplace to go.
  1. If you have a laptop, you probably have the machine already, in your house.
  2. If you do work with a keyboard and a mouse, the items you need to work on are on your laptop, not in the office.
  3. The boss can easily keep tabs on productivity digitally.
  4. How many meetings are important? If you didn't go, what would happen?
  5. You can get energy from people other than those in the same company.
  6. Of the 100 people in your office, how many do you collaborate with daily?
  7. So go someplace. But it doesn't have to be to your office.
School systems can do this now and save money that could go toward student resources,  lowering class sizes, and so much more.  

Are they too stuck in their old ways or do you think there are some that'd give this a whirl?


  1. You should call this post "The Blended Workplace."

    Blended learning strives to combine the best of online and F2F; the blended workplace should do the same. Sometimes it is necessary and helpful to meet F2F; sometimes not. For example, a colleague and I are currently working on a project together; we met to kick it off, but for the past few weeks have been working independently, communicating electronically and by phone when needed. We will meet again F2F when needed.

    1. Yes. Great points Jeff.

      Taking it a step further, when we accept this method, global collaboration comes more easily. Even that f2f encounter or meeting can be handled, when necessary, via Skype, Google Hangout, online platform (i.e. Blackboard Collaborate) or conference call.

  2. Think of how much time students and teachers will waste thanks to the magic of digital connectedness. Most teenagers, and many adults, can and will find any number of diversions and ways to cheat the system to avoid actually spending the time it will take to learn. The idea of an all-digital school is a pipe dream.

    1. @Anonymous,
      This post wasn't about an all-digital school but rather freeing up funds for building costs by enabling staff to work remotely. Technology can be used as a weapon of mass distraction or a tool of engagement, but in the end we should measure folks by their ability to complete what is necessary to do a good job.

  3. While I enjoy the flexibility that updated technology has given us--especially things like wifi and broadband, which have made this flexibility possible--there are two major flaws here:

    1. The ability to work off site/from home hasn't alleviated America's problem with working too much. In fact, it's exacerbated it. Time was, in the past, that you went into work and came home after work was over. Sure, you probably stayed late at times, but you did your best to manage your time at work and at home (to varying degrees of success). Now, however, your boss--if he/she so desires--can have you at his/her beck and call 24/7. That thing he/she thinks of at 8:00 on a Friday night? No longer do you have to wait until Monday morning to hear about it because he/she just texted you or emailed you about it while you were trying to have dinner/read a bedtime story to your kid/watch the ball game.

    We are tethered to our devices because we've been made to feel that we're not good enough if we don't work enough hours or that we're going to be in trouble with the boss if we don't respond during our off time. Yes, it allows us to pick up the kids from school, but how involved are you if your kids want to play with you and you're still answering emails?

    2. You have to have the luxury to do this. Sure, not everyone needs to work in an office, but what about anyone who is in a field that involves directly servicing customers? Doctors, dentists, mechanics, electricians, plumbers, and anyone who owns a brick-and-mortar retail business has hours during which they have to be at that business.

    Furthermore, not all positions in companies allow for you to have that flexibility. My previous career was in marketing and I never had a position where I was allowed to work from home. Sure, I had the means but company policy dictated that I HAD to be in the office. I even had to come into the office when D.C. was being hit by a hurricane because a partner at the firm where I was working dictated it be so.

    Finally, consider accessibility and availability. Not having to go to school and working on your own would be great if you lived in an area that could support it; however, for many, the actual building of school is a bit of a refuge from home or the neighborhood, and many don't feel safe at home or don't have the money to afford a "work from home" type of situation.

    1. @Tom Panarese,

      Thanks for your thoughtful response. Here are my reactions.

      Working to much.
      This is not relevant to a blended work place. It happens whether you tie work to a people or places. People can control their technology rather than allowing it to control them in either setting.

      Those directly servicing customers.
      This article specifically addresses educational administrative staff and those who are not working with students in a brick and mortar setting. However, to your point, more and more schools are providing virtual services for positions such as tutoring, reading intervention, speech therapy, guidance counselling, AP classes, and credit recovery.

      Outdated company policy.
      That is my point. If companies could update outdated thinking as my former employer did they can save a fortune in resources that (in this case) can go to children.

      Accessibility and availability.
      First, this wasn’t about those who work in brick and mortar schools.
      Second, I indicated that employers would provide the necessary access.

      Safety at home.
      An adult employee not feeling safe at home is perhaps an issue for couple’s counseling, but it is not the focus of this topic.
      Additionally, as Godin says, working remotely does not have to mean working from your home.

    2. Your argument, while it has merit, is presented in a way that is overly broad and gets muddied in the specifics.

      I don't see how you're not applying your point about central and district offices to schools themselves, especially since your entries repeatedly talk about how antiquated our current educational system is. While many districts have administrations that are very top-heavy and often bloated, there still may be a need for a physical central administrative presence in the form of an office, and that has more to do with CRM than being out of date.

      There are entire companies who exist only on the internet, yes, and it has made life (especially retail) significantly more convenient. However, it's also not hard to find someone who is frustrated with the state of customer service--i.e., why do I have to press several different buttons or jump through all of these hoops in order to talk to a person? And that's just the cable company. If you completely remove the personal aspect of customer service from something as important as education, you may be doing more harm than good. Again, a presence may seem outdated but that doesn't mean that your customers--parents and students--don't think it's necessary.

      Also consider that accessibility and availability might not be always possible. I'm sure that companies could provide their employees with the tools that they need, but they're actually under no obligation to do so. Claiming budgetary issues, they could say that you have to use your own resources if you're working from home. Not that many would, but knowing the budget crunch that many schools are under, if they closed doors and went virtual, they could very well do so (especially if it helps cut taxes, which very often is what the public loves to see more than a good education).

      Safety can be an issue for a child, and since we're applying what you were talking about re: companies to a school, you have to consider that while an adult can manage his/her life better, a child might not have the ability to do so and sees the school as a refuge, tries to get school officials to intervene if possible (and necessary, btw), or simply sees their graduation and attending college (which I know you think isn't necessary for all) as a way out of that life.

    3. @Tom Panarese
      I agree that a physical presence may be helpful, but it does not need to be 9 - 5 everyday. When the need arises, you go in and certain personnel who might often be visited for f2f purposes might be there permanently.

      As far as schools, it depends. If we’re talking primary school many folks need a brick and mortar place to send their children while they’re at work. For secondary though, you are right about my beliefs here. I think a lot more learning should happen out of the school and into the world. This is what Big Picture Schools do and I think it is effective and brilliant.

    4. Well, the idea that more learning should happen outside of school isn't anything anyone's going to disagree with. However, easing the requirement for a physical presence in the classroom for secondary students might actually run into legal complications. After all, the students who are in secondary schools are technically minors and the schools are their guardians for the 6-8 hours of the school day. If you were to say, "You don't need to go to the school to learn," someone might (rightfully) ask who is taking care of these kids when they're not in school. You can run a college campus this way b/c the vast majority of college students are 18 or older, but liability issues may ensue from an "open campus" at, say, your local high school.

      Now, a structure wherein students don't HAVE to be in a class EVERY minute of every day but have places on their campuses to hang out or work when they don't have a class might not be a bad idea. If you had, say, more study lounges or something like a coffee shop that was right on campus and allowed students to have free time during the day instead of hounding them into classes they don't need just because you think they need to be in a class, it might create a better environment and better campus culture.

      As for administrative offices: making them leaner is definitely the way to go ... for efficiency reasons, budgetary reasons, and even PR reasons (it eliminates the "wasteful spending" argument I often hear when people complain about school budgets. Then again, they say my paltry salary is wasteful spending, so there's no pleasing those people).

  4. Some interesting ideas.
    I always enjoy reading ideas from Seth Godin, he seems to have the knack of keeping things simple but challenging us at the same time.
    Before my retirement I was a Headteacher of a primary school, here in the UK, and I found myself attending endless meeting and wasting many hours. 90% of what was achieved could easily have been done by the use of technology. Unfortunately this was a frightening step too far for many of my colleagues and for our Local Authority officers.
    We live in an age of mistrust - everything has to be seen, measured and accounted for. If we can't physically check out our workers we assume they are not doing the job.
    I admire your 'way out of the box' thinking. Let's hope that slowly but surely more people leave their tiny boxes and join you.